Court Fines Nigerian Customs N5 Million For Violating Lawyer’s Rights
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday ordered the Nigerian Customs Service to pay N5 million to Chikaosolu Ojukwu as damages for violating his fundamental rights.
Mr Ojukwu, accused the customs service of unlawfully detaining him and seizure of his personal effects – four iPhone 13 Pro phones.
He said upon his arrival at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos from the United Kingdom on February 20, 2022, operatives of the Customs service accosted him and seized his iPhone.
The service compelled the plaintiff to pay N404,417 as import duties on the four iPhones that were in his possession upon arrival at the airport in Lagos from the UK.
Subsequently, Mr Ojukwu filed a suit at the Federal High Court, urging the judge, Ahmed Mohammed, to declare the action of the customs service “unlawful” and a gross violation of his fundamental rights.
Delivering his judgement in the suit, the judge held that Nigerians who have not been outside Nigeria for at least nine months are not required by law to pay import duties on their personal effects not meant for sale, exchange or barter.
Mr Mohammed said Mr Ojukwu’s case was unchallenged and ought to be deemed admitted, as the affidavit evidence of the customs service amounted to hearsay evidence having not been given by a person who witnessed the transaction.
The court acknowledged that the plaintiff proved his case against the Nigerian Customs Service and its board who were the 1st and 2nd defendants.
Mr Ojukwu, through his lawyer, Segun Fiki, tendered documentary evidence, including the debit alert receipt and bank statements, before the court.
In its ruling, the court held that it was satisfied that Mr Ojukwu’s four iPhone 13 pro phones were personal effects which should attract import duties, being items not meant for sale, exchange or barter.
“I am of the firm view that the seized items are the personal effects of the plaintiff and not for sale and barter and ought not to be paid duty on. I award the sum of N5million against the 1st and 2nd defendants,” the judge said.
Customs ordered to return seized phones, money
The court further ordered the Nigerian Customs Service to release the four phones that were seized from Mr Ojukwu and to refund the N404,417 (Four Hundred and Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Seventeen Naira) being the import duty, value-added tax (VAT) and other levies which were unlawfully collected from the plaintiff.
The court, however, exonerated the 3rd defendant in the suit, First Bank Plc, as not being culpable, having been a mere tool through which the VAT was paid.
The plaintiff, Mr Ojukwu, in April 2022 sued the Nigerian Customs Service Board, the Nigerian Customs Service and First Bank Plc over the breach of his fundamental rights.
Mr Ojukwu’s lawyer, Segun Fiki, prayed the court for a declaration that the client was not liable to pay import duties, value added tax and other levies in respect of his personal effects.
He based the suit on the provisions of section 8 of the Customs, Excise Tariff, etc. (Consolidation) Act and paragraph 7 of the Second Schedule to the Act.
The plaintiff also prayed for an order directing the defendants to refund the total sum of N 404, 417. 00 (Four Hundred and Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Seventeen Naira) being the import duty, value-added tax (VAT) and other levies which were unlawfully demanded and collected from him by the Nigerian Customs Service through a First Bank Point-of-Sale (POS) Terminal upon his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on the 20th February 2022.
He also asked the court to declare his detention by the Nigerian Customs Service who restrained him from leaving the airport premises to take his medications until he paid the import duties.
Mr Ojukwu asked the court to declare his arrest and detention unlawful and sought damages in the total sum of N 160 million.
The defendants had in their defence asked the court to dismiss the suit for lacking in merit.
Ikechukwu Emeto, counsel for the customs service, argued that the plaintiff had not shown any cause of action against the defendants.
Culled from Abuja Metro